Dossier/4 – Invisible Countries

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Sudan is not the only country at war in Africa. Last April, the Tuareg of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared the independence of Northern Mali. In the 1950s, the Tuareg had wanted independence from French colonizers. However, then French President Charles De Gaulle refused to create an independent nation and opted for the creation of Mali. The struggle for independence resulted in several upraises: in 1962, 1964, 1990, and 2006. The present crisis follows the fall of Libya, when many Malian Tuareg, previously fighting for Muammar Khadafy, returned home with a large stash of weapons and may spread to Tuareg communities living in adjacent countries: Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger.

dos4bThe Malian state of affairs has been complicated by the sidelining of the MNLA. The Tuareg fighters have been overtaken by Ansar Dine and MUJAO, two Islamic militant movements which have links with Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb and Boko Haram. Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic sect, has sent fighters to Mali. At home, Boko Haram has been responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Christians and moderate Muslim. This militant movement has links with northern politicians and officers of the security forces. While it is difficult to foresee the breaking up of Nigeria into two new countries – a Christian south and a Muslim north – it is clear that the tension in Nigeria cannot be written off as a simple squabble.
The crisis gripping Eastern D.R. Congo is in full development, and especially the region of North and South Kivu, where civil war has been on and off for the past twenty years. The conflict has its roots in the Rwandan civil war of 1990-94 and in the massive quantity and variety of natural resources, which are eyed by local powers. Among the numberless militia fighting in the area there are also some who claim to fight for independence. Their voice is however feeble and there are doubts to the real aims of these groups. A clearer identity is that of the United Forces for the Liberation of Katanga (UFLK). Katanga is a region rich in mineral and other resources and it is not new to the idea of independence. From 1960 to 1963, Katanga declared secession from the Congo and it is there that, in 1961, Patrice Lumumba – one of Congo’s fighters for independence – was killed. The UFLK has led some attacks to an airport, an electoral post and a weapon deposit.
dos4cIt is difficult to evaluate the present situation in Libya. After the fall of Muammar Khadafy, political leaders from Cyrenaica called for autonomy from Tripoli. Libya has been traditionally divided into three administrative regions: Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica. The latest call for autonomy, however, seems to respond solely to economic interests. Local politicians and financial groups wish to have control of the huge oil deposits of the region. Most Libyans believe that the autonomy of Cyrenaica is but the prelude to secession. The government of Tripoli has responded with a renewed effort to bring all militias under its control. After Islamic groups attacked the American embassy in Tripoli, the government increased its pace in seeking full control of the country. Bengasi might not get what it wanted.
On a different foot is the question of Kabylie, the region covering several provinces in northern Algeria. Kabylie is perhaps the most important centre of Berber culture. The Berbers – most correctly Imazighen – ask for the recognition of their culture. They want their language, Tamazight, recognized as an official language of Algeria. The Imazighen started their struggle in the 1980s, but it was only in 2001 – after 126 people were killed in a scuffle with the police – that the government has made partial concessions. Before the 2012 elections, many Imazighen were arrested on flimsy excuses, prompting international human rights watchdogs to protest publicly. Some question the Imazighen true aims, since some leaders of Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb found refuge in the region. However, a study ordered by the USA Congress showed how the local population are victims of al Qaeda and not their supporter. Unclear is the real strength of the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie by Ferhat Mehenni, a musician, which does not command a serious following.
Quite unpopular is alsdos4do Lunda Tchokwe, a self proclaimed kingdom in Eastern Angola. Lunda Tchokwe Facebook account is followed by only 150 people … This poor result did not prevent Angolan authorities from keeping thirty supporters in prison until recently, even after the law they supposedly broke had been repealed in 2010. In Zimbabwe, instead, three activists of the Mthwakazi Liberation Front have not yet been tried. The Mthwakazi Liberation Front supports the secession of Matabeleland, basing its requests on accords signed during the colonial period, and because of the oppression this region is suffering from the central government. The three activists had been arrested in 2010 and accused of treason. Freed on bond, they still await trial. The majority of the people of Matabeleland might not support the Mthwakazi Liberation Front but certainly object to President Robert Mugabe, in power since independence, whom they accuse of masterminding the massacres in Southern Zimbabwe.
Last, and perhaps also least, is the political-religious group Bundu dia Kongo. This group wishes to rebuild a pre-colonial kingdom that stretched from Gabon to Angola. There seems to be a bleak future for Bundu dia Kongo since it has not been able to gather a credible following.
It is difficult to foresee how some of these independence movements will fare in future. The few African secessions that resulted in a new country show that the requisites are historical legitimization and strong popular support. Yet these are not enough, there must be also a clear international recognition. These are conditions that most of these would-be state lack. It also remains to be seen if the UN Security Council – which controls the procedure of admission to the UN – would be willing to accept new members, and so give legitimacy to new nations.

Davide Maggiore


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